The Elephant, the Rider, and the Path

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to eat less ice cream if it isn’t in the house?

It’s not just you; there’s a whole science behind it. The more I study human change psychology, the more I am convinced that we can change our lives by changing our environment.

You’re probably wondering …

“That’s fine, but what about that elephant and the rider in the title that got me curious?”

One of the most influential books in the field of Change “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” uses a powerful metaphor: the elephant and the rider.

Here’s the gist…

The rider is our rational brain, the part that plans, reasons, and considers evidence. The one that tells you – “hey you don’t really need that watch, remove it from your shopping cart”.

The elephant symbolizes our emotional, impulse-driven side. Despite the rider’s best efforts, the elephant’s sheer strength can overpower the rider. This one simply goes ahead and punches in the card details in that shopping cart! Your order is being processed!

It sounds like a hopeless battle, right? Even with the best logical reasons for making changes, the elephant often charges straight into temptation—be it potato chips, booze, cigarettes, or endless social media scrolling or shopping for unwanted things.

And the Path?

Guess what, the elephant travels on a path! By shaping the path, i.e., changing the environment, we can influence the elephant’s behavior without it even realizing. This is the secret!

For example, I help clients do a “kitchen makeover” where we get rid of unwanted foods and stock up on healthy options. We might also add equipment that makes it easier to cook, prep, or store those healthy foods. Better than a diet plan that sucks? It’s all about the environment you create for yourself.

It’s not simple though…

In comes the complexity of Motivation! Even with an optimal environment, some people still struggle to feel motivated and take action. Why? It’s because our relationships with our environments are complex. There are many types of environments and multiple systems at play. When we talk about the environment, we often only think of what’s physically around us—our homes, workplaces, the geography of our lives. 

But there’s so much more to it:

Social Environment: The people we know, our interactions and the dynamics of our relationships. “my friends always order a takeway, I can’t say no”.

Cultural Environment: The visible and invisible rules, expectations and norms. “what do you mean you won’t eat my home made cheesecake on my birthday”

Intellectual Environment: Even abstract concepts like ideas and beliefs that surround us, the stories we create in our heads, the characters we imagine, the intellectual stimulation we get, and our practices of learning. “Morning run. No way. I am not a morning person at all”

See …it’s complex.

Hence…

Well intentioned Coaching advice like “just eat better,” “just exercise more,” or “just try harder” is totally unhelpful in achieving real long-term change.. in fact it establishes a feeling on on-going failure because it asks you to do the same things that you haven’t been able to do successfully in the past, without understanding your complexities.

So, guide your elephant wisely—shape your path for the life you truly want. Ask for help.

Before you go …

I have a small favor to ask. Fitness Ignited, that I passionately put my heart and soul into is now a finalist to win a Small Business Award in the Health and Fitness category. If you believe in the work we do to help people lead healthier lives, please consider voting for us here. Click here to Vote for us.  It takes less than a minute, and every vote counts. Thank you for your support!

In health and inspiration, 

Rishi Dadhe

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